Dunes open for the season Friday.

March 31, 2022

– Silver Lake State Park photo

Dunes open for the season Friday.

By Allison Scarbrough, Editor.

GOLDEN TOWNSHIP – The only place of its kind in the US east of the Mississippi River, the Silver Lake Sand Dunes open for the 2022 season Friday, April 1.

Over 1 million people visit the scenic and unique park every year, said Silver Lake State Park Manager Jody Johnston. That total includes visitors to the campground, the Little Sable Point Lighthouse and the ORV area. “It’s getting busier and busier,” Johnston said. 

“As far as an ORV park in the dunes, this is the only place east of the Mississippi.”

– Silver Lake State Park photo

The park manager does not anticipate a huge crowd for the opener, but expects die-hard duners to make the trip. “Even with the lousy weather, we’re going to have a crowd of people. It’s like Opening Day of deer season. People take the day off of work to come here.” He said Saturday, April 2, will likely be busier. Although, this weekend’s traffic into the dunes should be minimal compared to a warm summer weekend. 

The campground opens for the season April 15. 

Hours at the ORV area through April 30 are 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., and on May 1, the hours extend until 10 p.m. through Sept. 15. The dunes remain open for the season through Oct. 31. “From Fool’s Day to Ghoul’s Day,” the dunes are open.

Traditional events return this summer, such as the Jeep Invasion, Heroes on the Dunes and Fourth of July Fireworks. 

Social media has increased the dunes’ popularity, said Johnston. “People are really sharing the times they have here and the scenery through pictures. I think that increases the popularity of visitation — another reason why we’re so busy here.

The park manager strongly advises people to make preparations before visiting the busy park by researching the state park website. Camping reservations can be made online as well. For questions not answered on the website, call the park at 231-873-3083.

Department of Natural Resources staff previously closed off an area of the dunes to protect an endangered species’ nesting site temporarily. It is required by the US Fish and Wildlife Service to safeguard the Great Lakes Piping Plover nests. The DNR is required by several rules and laws — including the Endangered Species Act — to protect the birds. 

– Silver Lake State Park photo

“We need to continue to accommodate that, but it’s too early to tell if they’re going to nest there,” said Johnston.

Alcohol is prohibited in the ORV area and within a quarter mile of its boundaries at all times. 

Silver Lake State Park photo

Unlicensed ORVs can operate on Fox Road from the Collin Hansen Welcome Center to the ORV entrance, which is a change that was implemented in 2019, Johnston said. The change came about due to limited parking in the ORV area. Because it is situated in a critical dunes area, the state park cannot expand the ORV parking lot, he said. However, parking at the welcome center was expanded. All permits are sold at the welcome center, which cuts down on time spent waiting in line to get into the dunes, he said. There is an air station at the welcome center, so people can air up after using the dunes. Tire pressure should be reduced at least 15 pounds, so vehicles sit better on top of the sand, Johnston said.

If your vehicle is dune-ready, state park officials are asking dune riders to not sit in the ORV parking lot to wait for the dunes to open at 9 a.m. due to traffic backups.

Duners must make sure their vehicles are in compliance with ORV laws by having adequate muffler systems.

Rustic bathrooms/vault toilets are available on the dunes. A food vendor will also be on hand this summer. Light House Grill at Hideaway Campground will serve up burgers and other menu items for hungry dune enthusiasts. 

The challenge this time of year is having enough staff, Johnston said. The state park is currently accepting applications for seasonal employment. 

Johnston advises dune riders to expect changes in the terrain from last year due to winter winds shifting the sand.

“Go slow and make a couple laps to become familiar with the terrain,” he said. “Look out

Silver Lake State Park photo.

for the guy not looking out for you.”

The shifting sand affects the terrain “day-to-day and week-to-week,” so it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself each time you go to the dunes to ensure safety.

“We’ve had some serious accidents. It’s like riding a horse – there are inherent risks involved.”

With more types of vehicles these days capable of riding on the dunes, such as SUVs and ATVs, there are more inexperienced operators. 

“People should not drive above their abilities or their vehicles’ abilities. That leads to a lot of accidents.”

There have been as many as 140 reported crashes on the dunes in one season, he said, but that number also includes non-injury crashes. “For the number of people there, in my opinion, that is a pretty low number.”

A “dune-ready streamlining experiment” is being tested out at the season’s start.

A map of the dune-ready streamlining experiment.

“Beginning this season, an entrance experiment for dune-ready vehicles will be tried to help us develop a more permanent dune-ready express lane for properly prepared vehicles to enter more efficiently,” states a March 29 post on the state park’s Facebook page. “The traffic flow will be to streamline completely dune-ready vehicles straight to the safety checkpoint by allowing access through the gate opening on the side of the ORV parking lot. This is the gate area on your right side near the parking lot vault toilets. The solid red line/arrows are the pathway to be used by ONLY DUNE-READY VEHICLES WHICH ARE COMPLETELY READY TO ENTER DIRECTLY INTO THE DUNES. If the vehicle is not dune-ready, it will be sent in the traditional way (dotted red line/arrows). The orange line/arrows are the traditional clockwise travel direction of the parking lot.

To be considered DUNE-READY, vehicles must have proper tire air pressure of 15 psi or lower, properly mounted orange dune flag, seats and safety belts, ORV permit, ORV trail permit and state park recreation passport, not be towing another vehicle, etc.”

“Please help us to make this a successful process by striving to make your vehicles as dune-ready as you can.  We realize that this temporary traffic pattern will take away a few parking spaces, but once a more permanent dune-ready pathway is developed, these parking spaces will be put back into use.”

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